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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

May 22, 2012

The Race: Sixth Gulf of Guinea Expedition Redux

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All of the GG VI participants are home now, and our specimens and materials are safely ensconced in their respective departments at the Academy.  For the first time, we had an official patch for the expedition. The original design of the cobra bobo and giant Begonia was drawn by one my graduate students, Dashiell Harwood. The patch was produced by our friend, Mike Murakami, who played such an important role in the production of the biodiversity coloring books (more about the education project below.) We gave many of these stick-on patches to third grade teachers to hand out as incentives to hard-working students.

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Dr. Iwamoto consuming his favorite, the concon. (A. Stanbridge – GG VI

Soon after Dr. Tomio Iwamoto, our marine ichthyologist and veteran of GGI and GG II returned home to the Academy a few weeks before the last of us, he left for Africa again. And, once again, he is aboard the Norwegian research vessel, the R.V. Nansen, as a senior scientist. I devoted an entire blog to his last trip aboard the Nansen, a couple of years ago.  They are trawling for deep water fish off the coast of Guinea Conakry. I believe the ship will also be exploring the coast of Mauritania in the following weeks. Since he left before we returned we have not been able to discuss his findings during GG VI; but below is a photo of the strange pipefish he and and Dr. Brian Simison seined in northern Sấo Tomé

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Microphis, the only member of its family reported from Sấo Tomé and Príncipe. (B. Simison-GG VI)

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Our botanists had a “a field day,” so to speak.  Recall that Jim Shevock (right) made 682 collections during GG IV, and this time he figured he would just pick up a few things he missed.  Not so. He estimates that among the 647 collections he made in GG VI are between 50 to 100 species of bryophytes he had not seen before, and these include at least 12 genera of liverworts and 12 genera of mosses that are new to the islands.
Miko Nadel (left, above) really has his hands full trying to sort out the lichens; there are 129 previously known species, but Miko made 475 collections, many of which will undoubtedly be new.  He tells me that lichenologists classify lichens by the supporting fungus rather than the symbiotic algae.

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Pico Mesa,  Príncipe ( RCD -  GG III)

In an earlier blog from the islands, I reported that Jim, Miko and our photographer Andrew were the first CAS workersto study the top of Pico do Sấo Tomé. Later on Príncipe, Jim and Miko became the first of us to reach the top of Pico Mesa (above).  Because they had to walk there rather than reaching the base by boat, they were only able to explore the northern most reaches of it; it appears to be a botanist’s paradise, and we will definitely return. Dr. Tom Daniel (GG III and IV) is particularly interested in getting up there as Miko photographed an endemic Impatiens at the top.

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Gabriel, me, Rayna Bell and Joao Pedro Pio at Bom Sucesso (A. Stanbridge – GGVI)

The herpetologists also did well. Rayna and I were assisted by a young Portuguese biologist, Joao Pedro Pio (far right), currently working on the endangered endemic maroon pigeon for workers at the University of Lisbon. He and his co-workers (including Gabriel, left) accompanied Rayna on all of her nocturnal frog hunts.

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Above is Hyperolius molleri, the oceanic treefrog typically inhabiting the lower elevations of both islands. This particular frog is being devoured by a wolf spider and note that it is largely a uniform green in color. In many earlier blogs, I have included images of the Sấo Tomé giant treefrog which is much bigger, has bright orange and black markings and is typically found above 1100 meters.

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Rayna’s sample from between 700 and 900 meters would strongly suggest that the two species are hybridizing at this level.  This is pretty exciting in that, if supported by genetic analysis, it will fit right into her PhD thesis at Cornell University.

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While I failed to find adult specimens of the Príncipe shrew which we know to be endemic and distinct from the Sấo Tomé shrew, we did find the largest “cobra gita” (house snake: Lamprophis sp.) we have ever seen and from a new locality.  This, too, we know to be a distinct species from the Sấo Tomé Lamprophis, but we have thus far been unable to describe it. This is because there are many species of the same genus on the African mainland, and their relationships are poorly understood. So while we know the two island species are distinct from one another, we cannot guarantee that one or the other (or both) does not also occur on the mainland.

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The Príncipe thumbnail-less gecko H. principensis (Weckerphoto – GG III]

While we were on Príncipe I received word that the description our new species of gecko had been formally published, so above meet Hemidactylus principensis.  Like H. greeffi, its nearest relative on Sấo Tomé, it lacks the thumbnail on the first toe, but otherwise, the two are very, very different.

Dr. Brian Simison’s finding that there are no limpets on either Sấo Tomé or Príncipe is intriguing.  Brian informs me that so far as he knows, Sấo Tomé and Príncipe may be the only oceanic islands that lack them.  They are present on the Cape Verde Ids, the Seychelles, etc.

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Dr Brian Simison at Laguna Azul.  (A. Stanbridge – GG VI)

This leads to the possibility that there may be something in the volcanic rock making up these islands that precludes the presence of these mollusks.

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Recall from earlier blogs that all four of the Gulf of Guinea Islands, plus Mt. Cameroon, the Cameroon highlands and even the Jos Plateau of Nigeria all originated from magmatic extrusions up through a 3,000 km-long linear fissure or rift that transects both the marine and continental parts of the African plate known as the Guinea Line; extrusion of magma occurred at various times from over 60 million years ago to the very recent Holocene continental island of Bioko.

The remarkable towers of both Sấo Tomé and Príncipe which appear in these blogs with such frequency are indeed of a rather uncommon, chemically distinct rock known as phonolite, usually associated with geologic hotspots.

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Príncipe, note phonolite towers and mesa on lower left. (A. Stanbridge – GG VI)

One test of the hypothesis that it is something about the rock that is excluding limpets would be to explore the shoreline of Bioko, the youngest of the Gulf of Guinea Ids and the only continental member of the archipelago.  And as luck would have it, our colleague, Rayna Bell will be working on Bioko in a matter of months.  In addition to looking for limpets on Bioko t the presence or absences of limpets along the Gulf of Guinea coast should be documented. If indeed the rock is unsuitable for limpets Brian would predict that limpets would be found on either side of Guinea Line, but not on rocks produced by it.

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(l-r, Roberta Ayres,  Velma Schnoll, me on, Sấo Tomé (A.  Stanbridge – GG VI)

I devoted an entire blog last month to the biodiversity education component of GG VI, and for all of us involved, this was just joyous. We personally delivered 1,840 endemic species coloring books to third graders in 62 classrooms of 17 selected primary schools on both islands. On the big island the schools were in the districts of Sấo Tomé town, Angolares, Trindade and Neves , and on Príncipe  at Santo Antonio, Sundy, Sao Joaquim, Nova Estrella and Praia Abade.

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Porto Real, “my school” on Príncipe  (V. Schnoll – GG VI)

To say they were well received would be a gross understatement.  Again, we thank all who worked on this project (see March 9 blog: Sharing the Wealth; and for those who made GG VI financially possible, see “Partners” below).  At the adult level, we also gave five lectures on the biodiversity of the islands: two in Portugal and three at institutions on the islands themselves.

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Droo doing his thing on Sấo Tomé ( R. Bell – GG VI)

Andrew Stanbridge (above), our photographer on both GG V and GG VI, is a remarkable person in many ways; much more than just a gifted professional artist.  His website is Andrewstanbridge.com

Here are some parting shots:

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PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to collectexport specimens for study. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include HBD of Bom Bom and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abell, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. Logistics and lodging for GG VI (Omali Lodge and Bom Bom Island) were kindly provided by HBD.


February 21, 2012

The Race: Gulf of Guinea VI, Part I (the Science)

Things have been very busy here at the Academy of Sciences, and this is one of my tardier blogs! However, part of the hustle and bustle has been in planning our next expedition, Gulf of Guinea VI.

The first good news is that our new species of gecko from Príncipe is about to be formally published in the African Journal of Herpetology, possibly as soon as April. It is bad luck to give you its name before it is published, but here is what it looks like, and we are adding yet another endemic species to our wonderful islands!

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Our new gecko near Bom Bom, Principe.  Weckerphoto- GG IV

As readers know, our expeditions have largely been privately funded since GG III, and the friends who have helped us are always celebrated in the PARTNERS section below.  However, I am going to take this early opportunity to thank the folks who are making the upcoming expedition financially possible: The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Bernard S. Schulte, John S. Livermore, John and Judy Sears and Elton Welke.

Here are the scientist participants in the upcoming GG VI which will run from 30 March until 5 May.

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Dr. Tomio Iwamoto on Sao Tome.  D Lin phot- GGI

Dr. Tomio Iwamoto is Curator Emeritus of our Ichthyology Department, and my good friend and flyfishing buddy.  He is a veteran of GG I and GG II and has already published two scientific papers as a result of these expeditions. He has also worked with São Tomé and Príncipe fisheries people in deepwater trawling around the islands (see Shipboard Discoveries….June 2010 blog).  During GG VI he wants to visit as many local fishing villages as he can on both islands to see what the most commonly caught fishes are.  His goal is to produce a popular guide for the fishermen themselves! This will not be a scientific publication.

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A Longfin crevalle jack described to science only 5 years ago. Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge phot- GG V

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Dr. Brian Simison; limpet photo by  T. Laupstad]

Dr. Brian Simison is a world authority on small monovalved molluscs known as limpets, commonly found firmly attached to rocks in the coastal littoral zones.  So far as we know, this group has never before been sampled in São Tomé and Príncipe, and our expectations for new discoveries are high.

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Crocidura tomensis, the Sao Tome shrew. Phot by Ricardo Lima, 2010

Brian is alsoDirector of the Academy’s  Center for Comparative Genomics which is where all our genetic and molecular work is done.  He became involved in our molecular analyses of the true status of the endemic São Tomé shrew (see Unique shrew…. August 2010 blog).  Working with Eden Maloney, he discovered that the shrew on Príncipe, long thought to be a mainland species, may indeed also be an endemic to that island.  While we collected DNA of this second shrew during GG II, we collected no adults.  Assuming we receive permission from the Ministry, Brian and I will also try to secure a couple of adult Príncipe shrews. If this is indeed a unique species, we will need to be able do describe its anatomy formally.

Two graduate students will be joining us.  The first is Rayna Bell who is doing her PhD on African tree frogs at Cornell University.

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Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius thomensis (phot RCD- GG I); Rayna Bell

Rayna will be looking at a potential hybrid zone between the oceanic tree frog (above, Hyperolius molleri) and the flambouyant São Tomé giant tree frog, H. thomensis of higher elevations, which I have featured in many of these blogs.  There is something curious going on with the genetics of these species and one of Rayna’s projects will be to look at both populations from the molecular perspective.

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Miko Nadel and lichens (from web)

Our other graduate student is Miko Nadel, who is doing his MSc in botany at San Francisco State University under the guidance of our favorite mycologist, Dr. Dennis Desjardin, describer of the now infamous Phallus drewesi of São Tomé.  Recall that Drs. Desjardin (GG II & III) and Perry (GG III) learned that over 33% of the mushrooms of São Tomé and Príncipe are new to science.  Miko informs me that there have been only a couple of scientific papers ever written on the lichens of the islands, and that was back in the 1880’s.  So it is time for a more modern and thorough look at this flora.

Finally, we round the scientist group out with the irrepressible  James Shevock, the Academy’s bryophyte (mosses and their allies) expert.

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Jim Shevock with moss at the Omali.  RCD phot-GG IV

The results of Jim’s efforts during GG IV are summarized in the image below.  The largest uptick of new species for the islands is expected in the third paper, which we hope will be published this year.

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Compilation and photo by RCD, GG IV (* this paper has since been published)

As in GG V, the new expedition will be accompanied by the world’s largest photographer, Andrew Stanbridge.  His images from GG V are magnificent, and he is a most excellent and willing field companion. His work can be viewed on the web at www.andrewstanbridge.com


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RCD and photographer Andrew Stanbridge. V. Schnoll phot – GG V

There will be two additional members of GG VI, both veterans of earlier expeditions,  Ms Velma Schnoll and Ms Roberta Ayres, but I will reintroduce  them in more detail in the second part of this blog which will be on our concurrent biodiversity education activities.

The parting shot:

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The Jockey’s bonnet, Principe. Photo by Eddie Herbst – 2011

[Herbst]

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim,  and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study.  Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the GG III-V  expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, Sheila Farr Nielsen, Corinne W. Abel and Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, Bernard Schulte, and John S. Livemore.   Our expeditions can be supported by tax-free donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.


April 22, 2011

The Race: The Sharing Begins

This is our seventh day, and we have been to all the schools, ministries, health centers and public places we can find, giving our biodiversity posters to head masters, principals, ministers. etc.. We started at the southern end of Sao Tome on one side, the town of Santa Catarina and worked north; then Porto Alegre on the east coast, working toward the city. This morning we delivered posters to a number of the bigger town schools but then spent the afternoon hunting spiders in the garden of Henrique da Costa, former Minister of Agriculture and a dear friend and wise counselor. As to our main mission, how have our posters been received? I thought I would just post a number of images of our poster adventures, and you can decide for yourself!

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And of course we had to jump back in the bush:

The Parting Shot:

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PARTNERS
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund (GG I), Hagey Research Venture Fund (GG II) of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/., Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bonfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, and Mrs. Sheila Farr Nielsen for helping make these expeditions possible. Tax-deductable donations in support of this work can be made to “CAS-Gulf of Guinea Fund.”


August 24, 2010

The Race: Unique Shrew Confirmed: the Majic of Molecules

The summer is almost over, and we have made some wonderful progress in our race to discover more island uniqueness before development changes everything. When I say “we”, I mean all the dedicated scientists, students and educators involved in our island biodiversity race for the past ten years. However, at the moment the laurels rest squarely on the head of Eden Maloney from the University of California at Los Angeles. Eden has been my intern at the California Academy of Sciences this summer, where she is known as “The Shrewster.”

Crocidura thomensis (l); Eden Maloney, UCLA

One of our most intriguing questions has been whether the supposed endemic São Tomé shrew, Crocidura thomensis, is really endemic, found nowhere else in the world. This would suggest that its ancestor arrived on the island by natural means (rafting?) a long, long time ago. The alternative (and more likely) hypothesis is that it was brought to the islands, perhaps inadvertently, by the Portuguese during their 500 years of intense commerce on the islands, and the scientist who described it as unique was in error.

This is an important issue, because mammals, with the exception of some bats, are notoriously poor over-ocean dispersers because they are endotherms, needing to maintain a constant body temperature. Moreover, among mammals, the very worst candidates as island colonizers are shrews. A shrew’s metabolic rate is so high that it must eat every four hours or die from heat loss; thus no competent biologist would predict the presence of such a creature surviving an extended crossing to colonize an oceanic island.

José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage (1823 – 1907); Wikipedia image

Crocidura thomensis was originally described in 1887 by J. V. Barbosa du Bocage, the curator of Zoology at the Museum of Natural History in Lisbon. He based his description on anatomical features such as the large size of the shrew’s feet and ears as well as the particularly long snout. We decided to do a molecular (genetic) test of Bocage’s hypothesis that C. thomensis is found only on Sao Tome and nowhere else in the world. Thanks to the kindness of our friends from the Ministry of the Environment, Arlindo Carvalho, Vitor Bomfin and Salvador Pontes, we were granted permission to receive some shrew specimens collected by our colleague, Ricardo Lima of Nova Moca and to export them to the Academy where Eden did DNA analysis of them. She also included two shrews we collected on Príncipe during GG II (2006). These have long been thought to be an introduced mainland species.

Eden was able to take advantage of a massive molecular study published three years ago by Dr. Sylvain Dubey of the University of Lausanne and his colleagues. Dubey’s study included 139 members of the shrew Family Soricidae from all over the world, but of course he lacked examples of our island shrews. Eden contacted Dr. Dubey, who was most helpful, and she was able to use the same four genes in her analysis that Dubey used in his larger study. Below is an image of the alignment of the DNA sequences of Dubey’s samples together with our island samples.

Shrew DNA sequence alignment. E. Maloney construct.

Maximum Likelihood Tree; E. Maloney Construct

Above is a cladogram, basically a picture of relationships- it includes the majorityof Afrotropical species and most Asian species that Dubey sampled, plus our island critters. Each line represents a species (or sample), and the lines that are joined together at the base (node) represent species (samples) that are each other’s closest relatives. The blue arrow is C. thomensis, our São Tomé shrew, the red is our Príncipe samples. While both are members of the same subset of the Afrotropical clade (related groups of lines), note that they are only distantly related to each other. There a number of lines (species) between them, and there are a number of distinct lineages (clades) within the Afrotropical group.

Afrotropical clade III; Eden Maloney construct

Above is a representation of Eden’s Afrotropical Clade III, therelated group within the broad African species clade that includes both our island samples. Our São Tomé species samples are in the red box, and notice that their nearest relative is a mainland species called Crocidura cyanea, a shrew that ranges from Angola, Botswana and Mozambique south into South Africa. C. thomensis is genetically distinct enough from this (it’s nearest relative) and all other species in the tree for us to say with confidence that it is a true endemic. From this we infer that the common ancestor of C. thomensis and C. cyanea somehow reached the island a long, long time ago, long enough for it to have been isolated from the mainland for a great enough period of time to have accumulated enough genetic change so that it is now recognizable as a distinct species. Assuming that our study is accurate and our analysis is correct, Crocidura thomensis is the Gulf of Guinea oceanic islands’ only endemic terrestrial mammal.

Sao Tome’s only endemic terrestrial mammal, Crocidura thomensis; R. Lima phot. 2009

We are not quite ready to publish these results though. There is still the problem of the two Príncipe samples, called C. poensis (blue box in the Afrotropical cladogram). The shrews on this island have long been thought to be this particular mainland species but the name is an assumption on our part; there are some missing sequences of C. poensis in Dubey’s study, and until we can clarify the situation, we do not know the correct name for the Príncipe shrew; it is probably either C. poensis or C. batesi, both mainland forms. However, the genetic differences between our Príncipe samples and the other species in Afrotropical Clade III are so small as to strongly suggest that the species is not endemic but rather a recent arrival.

Ricardo Lima in Europe; unknown phot.

Our colleague in this study is Ricardo Lima, who has appeared in this blog a number of times. Ricardo is a doctoral candidate at the University of Lancaster, has been doing his fieldwork on Sao Tome for several years and is an excellent biologist who is deeply concerned with the unique biodiversity of the islands. He has an excellent blog: http://riscas83.blogspot.com/

Ricardo Lima on Sao Tome; ] phot.R. Rocha

Ricardo not only re-discovered the São Tomé shrew (incorrectly thought to be rare), he has also learned more about this species that has ever been known before. He has made and plotted numerous sightings of the species during his fieldwork and has been able to learn a great deal about its abundance and natural history. So, Eden, Ricardo and I will collate his ecological data with our genetic data and publish our results when the remaining issues are all resolved. One other item: I have suggested, perhaps rashly, that Crocidura thomensis may be the only endemic oceanic island shrew in the world; further investigation is needed.

Anna Sellas, Lab Manager, Center for Comparative Genomics; RCD phot.

We are able to ask and answer such finely-tuned, detailed questions of genetic distance about the unique biota of São Tomé and Príncipe because we have the appropriate tools and wonderful people in our lab. The Center for Comparative Genomics is an integral department of the California Academy of Sciences. Headed by Dr. Brian Simison, the lab is managed and run by Anna Sellas, a fine biologist and most able teacher of molecular techniques. Dana Carrison, a member of GG III who did her MSc on island barnacles also works in the lab and greatly assisted Eden.

Grad Student Scientists with Gulf of Guinea Projects. RCD construct

A number of our interns and grad students who have worked in the field with us have done their analyses of São Tomé and Príncipe projects in the CCG. Four of mine, I am enormously proud to say, have entered or completed doctoral programs– they appear above. Some of their projects have been published, the rest are still in preparation.

The parting shot:

Haul-out, south of Neves.. R. Wenk Phot – GG III

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor and Velma and Michael Schnoll for helping make these expeditions possible. Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.


Filed under: Biodiversity,biogeography,DNA,Gulf of Guinea,shrews — bob @ 3:02 pm

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